Cost-of-Living: Calls for Help and Families in Need

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Original media release from Suicide Prevention Australia (7/09/2023).

For the first time, more than half of Australian families (56%) are reporting elevated cost-of-living distress beyond normal levels in the September Quarter – growing at three times (+20pp) the national average (+6pp) – as relief measures in the last Federal Budget continue to lose support from households (-15pp).

The latest Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker also reveals households with children (under 18) are twice as likely to call a frontline suicide prevention service for help (14%) than nationally (7%) after reporting some of the highest rates of suicidal behaviours (22%) and mental illness diagnosis (25%) in the past 12 months.

‘Cost-of-living and personal debt’ is the highest cause of distress for the fifth quarter in a row in the September 2023 Quarter (46%) nationally. That’s a significant increase on both the previous quarter (40%) and the same time last year (40%). It’s also still nearly double each of the top four issues, even with a continued climb in housing access and affordability concerns (24%;+5pp). (See full results in table)

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said the findings were a “warning sign” regarding the risk of distress being felt in Australian households converting into suicide rates.

Ms Murray made a passioned plea today for the Federal Government and economic policy makers to give people greater access to help – and hope that conditions would eventually improve – while accelerating their implementation of suicide prevention as part of a whole-of-government, not just mental health, response.

“We know that suicide is complex and often linked to many risk factors like personal debt, unemployment, family breakdown, social isolation, and mental health.

“Suicide doesn’t discriminate and has an overwhelming ripple effect across families, friends, workplaces and communities.

“Feeding the family and keeping a roof over our heads are two of the most basic human needs. While interest rates are a matter for the RBA Board, we must be prepared and proactive to prevent distress and suicide rates from continuing to rise,” said Ms Murray.

This includes a renewed push for the Albanese Federal Government to demonstrate national leadership and adopt a national suicide prevention act – similar to that operating in South Australia and currently being explored in New South Wales. Three-quarters (75%) of Australians reporting cost-of-living distress backed the move for national legislation. ­­

Suicide deaths rose an average 7% in 2022 across New South Wales and Victoria – representing over half the national population between them – with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to release official causes of death statistics for 2022 later this month (27 September 2023).

Ms Murray said, “Access to ABS Causes of Death data is part of the picture, but we also need more real time data on suicide attempts to better understand and respond to distress in our communities.

More Australians (54%; +10%) are now saying the May Budget’s relief measures will not ease cost-of-living pressures than those who believe that it will improve their situation (31%; -15%pp), including a quarter who think it will actually leave them worse off.

“World Suicide Prevention Day on Sunday, 10th September is a powerful reminder that we all have a role to play in suicide prevention.

“If you are doing it tough, please reach out and get support. Help is available and it can make a difference if you are struggling.

“Together, let’s embrace our collective responsibility, champion hope and take meaningful action to save lives,” said Ms Murray.

To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.

The Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker is undertaken quarterly in partnership with YouGov Australia. Total sample size was 1007 adults. Fieldwork for the September quarter was undertaken between 10th – 13th August 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+). Suicide Prevention Australia’s Community Tracker provides a timely health check on the social and economic issues driving distress and subsequent suicide risk in Australia. It is designed to provide real-time, community-wide insights to policy makers, practitioners, and the community and to support suicide prevention. It is also intended to supplement other existing datasets including from the National Suicide and Self-harm monitoring system and Suicide Prevention Australia’s annual State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report.